UF joins others by chomping free dial-up


Published: Thursday, June 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, June 1, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
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University of Florida student Andrew Latchman, 18, takes advantage of one of UF's wireless Internet hotspots in Turlington Plaza on Tuesday.

TOM MCCARTHY/ Special to The Sun
In the age of high-speed Web surfing, the University of Florida's free dial-up Internet service is proving to be the little engine that couldn't.
UF rolled out its "GatorLink" service in 1997, offering students, faculty and staff free remote access to the information superhighway at dial-up speed. But with high-speed connections ever-growing in popularity, students who want to download the latest "Sopranos" episode or send instant messages to each other aren't flocking to GatorLink as they once did. Neither are faculty and staff.
GatorLink, a service that once supported 20,000 users, now only hosts about 4,000 people, said Mark Hoit, UF's interim chief information officer. Given the dramatic decrease in users, UF may phase out the the service altogether in the future, just as many other institutions have done. For starters, though, UF will try to recover some of the costs of the service by charging users $5 a month. That's still less than half of what Internet Service Providers charge on average.
"I can't work at that speed," Hoit said. "You get an attachment and you're dead on a dial-up line. If you're really trying to do work, dial-up is not an effective way to do modern work."
The move from dial-up to high-speed broadband connections like cable or DSL is happening at breakneck speed across the nation, according to recent studies. About 22 percent of Americans say they have a dial-up connection today, down from 38 percent in 2002, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project.
As Americans ditch dial-up in growing numbers, they're moving toward broadband in record numbers, Pew reported in a survey released this week. The number of Americans using broadband at home jumped from 60 million to 84 million this year, according to the survey. The 40 percent rise is double the rate of increase from last year.
John Horrigan, Pew's associate director for research and author of the study, said the spike in broadband adoption is in part attributable to a decrease in cost for DSL service. Surveyed DSL users reported average monthly bills of $32, which is $9 less than average cable modem bills.
College students, many of whom grew up on broadband, will be even less inclined to use dial-up in their own homes, Horrigan said.
"Once you taste the high speed connection, it's awfully hard to go back to dial-up," he said.
At UF, broadband is increasingly the norm.
The campus is growing in wireless capacity with more and more "hot spots" springing up in public areas and classrooms.
Eric Weil, managing partner at a New Jersey-based think tank called the Student Monitor, said he was taken aback to hear that UF was still offering dial-up of any kind.
"I tell you, they're not going to have any takers if they charge for it - even for 5 bucks," he said.
In a Student Monitor study of 100 colleges and universities conducted last fall, only 4 percent of students said they used dial-up connections.
For some rural areas, however, dial-up remains the only option. When UF announced that it would begin charging for GatorLink, Hoit said he received about 30 e-mails from users who expressed concern.
Some of those e-mails came from students or faculty who live on the outskirts of town where broadband connections are hard to come by. Other users worried that they wouldn't be able to access files and documents through UF's network without GatorLink, which is not the case, Hoit said.
Wendy Wigen, a policy analyst for Educause, a nonprofit group that promotes technology in higher education, said there may always be a place for dial-up in some sectors.
"In the general public that may always remain an option, kind of like basic cable," said Wigen, reached by phone at Educause's Washington, D.C., headquarters. "On the campuses, I would definitely say that dial-up is becoming passť."
But for those who've had access to broadband, there seems little hope they'll return to dial-up, Horrigan said.
"We're unlikely to see in 10 years dial-up hobbyist clubs," he said with a laugh. " ... Most people won't long for the old days of the beep and hum of the modem."
Jack Stripling can be reached at 374-5064 or Jack.Stripling@gvillesun.com.

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